Ottawa is situated where it is, because it’s where the Rideau River empties into the Ottawa River. Long before the first European settlers set foot in North America, these two rivers were the major trade routes for the Indigenous residents of this part of the world.
Over time, river valleys saw the development of foot paths as people followed the busy watercourses. In the twentieth century, many of these footpaths were paved into roads, which then ironically became a barrier between the population and the water. As urban populations accepted dirtier and dirtier urban water, less swimming and boating took place in urban waterways.
Imagine telling your summer houseguests that you’re taking them to the National Gallery, and that you’re going by canoe!
Today, there are still places to put a canoe or kayak into the Rideau River on the west side, but none on the east side. In July of 2021, residents of Alta Vista applied to the NCC asking that it consider the addition of a floating dock at the foot of Pleasant Park Road, which would give access to canoes, kayak and stand-up paddleboards from the east side of the river. (Read Alta Vista News)
This raises a broader question of whether there should be more infrastructure city-wide to encourage non-motorized water transportation. A likely objection in many neighbourhoods will be that a boat launch will just bring in more cars, as everyone uses their SUV to get their boat down to the water to enjoy some peace and quiet.
Better use and access to our waterways by non-motorized craft could also be part of a renaissance of rural tourism
But what if the city provided all the amenities for a boat launch except a parking lot, so that people would only have the option of accessing the boat launch site by foot, bike, or bus? What if we built some little boathouses where people could rent or store their boats, like our skate shacks in the winter? Maybe a bathroom, a drinking fountain and a picnic table for good measure? The appeal to both tourists and residents would be substantial. Imagine telling your summer houseguests that you’re taking them to the National Gallery, and that you’re going by canoe!
An Ottawa that truly embraces multimodal travel and truly embraces its heritage, would look to the waterways the same way our ancestors did – as the original freeways. And if more of us spent more time on our waterways we might get a little pickier about what gets dumped into them. (Check out the RVCA's City Stream Watch)
Better use and access to our waterways by non-motorized craft could also be part of a renaissance of rural tourism, with small inns and campgrounds popping up along the river, and historic paddle tours up and down the Saint Lawrence, Ottawa and Rideau Rivers. (Read my blog about Rural Villages)
An Ottawa that truly embraces multimodal travel and truly embraces its heritage, would look to the waterways the same way our ancestors did
Paddling, like walking, is an excellent pandemic pastime and we should ponder more places to propel ourselves into those ponds.
~ JANET MARK WALLACE is a regular blog contributor for Walkable Ottawa